PHILADELPHIA — If the music is pumping when you walk into Kati Mac Floral Designs in West Chester — especially if it’s a song by Luke Bryan or Keith Urban — you can bet staffer Emily Scott is serving as DJ that day.

“I’m kind of a party girl,” she said. “And I love to greet people. If people have questions, I’m the person.”

The atmosphere in this heavenly-smelling shop on High Street is so spirited that employee Lily Seagraves said it rivals her second job, as a Philadelphia Eagles game day event staffer who greets fans and gives directions.

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“It’s really fun actually working here,” Seagraves said. “It’s awesome and incredible at the same time.”

While Kati Mac Floral Designs has been a staple in West Chester for more than a decade, last year it came under new ownership when Elaine Scott (Emily’s mom) and Colleen Brennan were gifted the shop to help achieve their dream of creating a meaningful work environment for people with intellectual disabilities.

The full-service flower shop now operates as a nonprofit, with a mission of providing a positive space for those with cognitive disabilities to learn, train, and grow. Currently, six out of the shop’s 10 staffers are people who have Down syndrome, including Seagraves, 19, and Scott, 25.

“It means so much to me to have Emily working here and enjoying her employment and finding her niche,” Elaine Scott said.

Brennan’s 15-year-old daughter, Katie, who has Down syndrome, is too young to work at the shop but loves visiting and going out to deliver flowers with her mom.

“She asks me all the time ‘Are we going to the flower shop today? Can we go to the flower shop today?'” Brennan said. “So I will be excited to see her work here one day.”

These two moms — with no prior experience in the floral business — undertook this venture not only out of a love for their own children, but also out of love for the “village” of people they’ve met through the Chester County Down Syndrome Interest Group.

“There is no handbook, there is no guide on how to navigate, whether it is school or whether it is a medical condition,” Brennan said. “The way my husband and I have always navigated life with Katie is through this community of people.”

Scott, a mother of four, created the Chester County Down Syndrome Interest Group (CCDSIG) shortly after Emily was born.

Brennan, a mother of two who met Scott through CCDSIG and eventually joined its board, became the chairperson of the organization’s Buddy Walk. Under her direction, the event became so financially successful that CCDSIG was able to accumulate savings.

Conversations began around how to make a real impact with the money they’d raised. Scott often heard from parents who found it hard to get meaningful employment for their kids with cognitive disabilities, beyond stacking napkins and clearing tables.

“It is a very random and individualized approach for finding jobs,” Scott said. “Some parents use services such as (the) Office of Vocational Rehabilitation or other government-funded organizations. Often there is a waiting list, lack of staffing, or, as I have found, a long wait to see if your waiver money will fund the service.”

According to the 2022 Case for Inclusion report, only 18% of adults with an intellectual or developmental disability in Pennsylvania work alongside people without disabilities and earn market-driven wages, slightly less than the national average of 20%.

Brennan and Scott wanted to help change that.

“Lo and behold, this flower shop opened up and became for sale,” Scott said. “It was the perfect situation to take that seed money and create a business out of it and create this employment opportunity.”

The shop has had several owners over its 12 years of operation. In 2016, it was purchased by EBS Healthcare, which provides therapeutic and behavioral health services, with the intent of having employees with intellectual disabilities work there. Scott assisted with the business, and some people volunteered at the shop, but the goal of paying employees with cognitive disabilities never reached fruition, and the shop closed amid COVID-19 restrictions.

In January 2021, the shop was gifted by EBS to Scott and Brennan, who created the Kati Mac Education Foundation, a Pennsylvania nonprofit charter which operates the business with CCDSIG as its parent group. They decided to keep the store’s recognizable name and its floral designer, Ashlee Smith, who’s been with the shop for six years and helped teach Brennan and Scott the ropes.

“It’s fantastic. It was a big change, but a welcome one,” Smith said. “The employees are really fun to be around.”

The owners, who officially opened the shop in June and began onboarding employees with cognitive disabilities in January, also hired employment manager Christy Rainey, whose sole focus is assisting staffers with intellectual disabilities. Rainey not only helps train employees, she’s also a steady presence at the shop to offer support, advice and guidance.

“I’ve worked with children before, which was wonderful, but working with this adult community is amazing,” Rainey said. “You earn their trust and that keeps them coming back.”

Each of the shop’s employees has gravitated toward specific parts of the business. Lily Seagraves is the point person for processing flowers and putting them in buckets; staffer Lauren Kilgore, 22, finds satisfaction in stripping thorns off of roses; and Emily Scott enjoys the clerical roles.

When it comes to deliveries, Kati Mac’s has an all-volunteer fleet of drivers, from Brennan and Elaine Scott themselves, to others in their CCDSIG village, many of whom bring their children along.

While a big part of the shop’s business is weddings, right now the store is bustling with prom season and Mother’s Day orders.

As Emily Scott spoke about her own mom — whom she calls “my sweet love” — she was overcome with emotion.

“The reason why I call her my sweet love (is) because she just does so many things for me. (She) takes care of someone who is special needs in her life and … special needs is kind of part of our lives,” Emily Scott said. “To have special needs is a wonderful and beautiful feeling inside. How much I love her!”

© 2022 The Philadelphia Inquirer
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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